Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana (affectionately known as ‘Bhante G’) is one of those rare Buddhist books that will be of great benefit to non-Buddhists, new Buddhists and seasoned practitioners alike. It’s the kind of book that you will refer to again and again, and every time you turn to it you will discover something new that you didn’t appreciate in quite the same way previously.
As the title suggests, this book is a plain English how-to guide to developing greater levels of mindfulness by practicing vipassana meditation. Whether you are brand new to the subject, have tried meditating before on your own but come unstuck, or would simply like a fresh perspective that can help you to improve and deepen your practice, Mindfulness in Plain English delivers the goods.
The first chapter sets the tone very nicely with Meditation: Why Bother? Here the author explains the various benefits of meditation and by the time you have finished the chapter you will be thoroughly motivated to get started. The next three chapters debunk commonly held misconceptions about meditation, provide an accurate explanation of what meditation really is, and discuss the kind of attitude that you should adopt for best results.
After laying that foundation, the author moves on to focus on the practice of meditation itself. Every aspect of mindfulness meditation is discussed, including what to do with your body, what to do with your mind, how to structure your meditation and how to deal with problems and distractions.
In addition to all of that information, the author then presents a good discussion about mindfulness and how it relates to concentration. The final two chapters focus on Meditation in Everyday Life and What’s in It for You, and there is also a chapter-length afterword entitled The Power of Loving Friendliness that talks about mindfulness in relation to the development of metta.
A 20th Anniversary edition of Mindfulness in Plain English was published in 2011, which says a lot about how popular this book is. Jon Kabat-Zinn has described it as ‘a masterpiece’ and we echo that verdict wholeheartedly.